Navas to make belated debut as Ancelotti shuffles pack

Andy West 23/09/2014
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Summer recruit: Keylor Navas.

Keylor Navas is finally set to make his Real Madrid debut as manager Carlo Ancelotti indulges in a heavy dose of squad rotation against Elche at the Bernabeu tonight.

The Costa Rica international goalkeeper joined from Levante in a 10million (Dh47.1m) deal this sum­mer but has so far been kept out of the team by veteran Iker Casillas.

Although Ancelotti did not con­firm the selection of Navas it is very likely to be one of several changes this evening, with the Italian coach anxious to avoid burdening his sen­ior players with too heavy a work­load during a period of seven games in the space of 22 days.

Two more players who could ben­efit from the changes are Isco and Asier Illarramendi, who have strug­gled to make a major impact at the Bernabeu but both performed well from the bench in Saturday’s 8-2 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna, Isco providing a lovely assist for Gareth Bale and Illarramendi com­pleting every pass he attempted.

“We have a few different options within our playing philosophy and now and again we can call on them,” said Ancelotti. “Illarra gave us more control of the ball and offered sup­port to the defenders.

“Isco was outstanding in both last season’s finals and has progressed very well.

“I have not lost any confidence in him. We know he is still very young and that he represents the future of the team.”

One player unlikely to be rested, however, is Cristiano Ronaldo, who is getting back to his best after a frustrating period of niggling knee injuries and scored a superb hat-trick at Deportivo.

Ancelotti believes Ronaldo needs more games to rediscover his rhythm. “He doesn’t need to be rested yet,” he said. “We need him because he is enjoying a great streak.”

And the Italian boss will continue to give Ronaldo a free role, explain­ing: “He has to have the freedom to be able to follow his instincts on the pitch.”

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Messi back to his imaginative best with dazzling assists

Andy West 23/09/2014
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Pass master: Lionel Messi has provided six assists in five games this term.

Barcelona’s start to the season has contained plenty of positives, with a 100 per cent record being built on the back of five consecutive clean sheets.

New signings Claudio Bravo, Jer­emy Mathieu and Ivan Rakitic have settled quickly, and young strikers Munir El Haddadi and Sandro have both been among the goals.

Arguably the biggest plus, how­ever, has been the rejuvenation of star man Lionel Messi, who looks a completely different player to the jaded, unenergetic performer who did little to help his team’s ailing title bid at the end of last season.

Messi is the only player to have been fielded for every minute of every game, and he has rewarded new boss Luis Enrique by playing a fundamental role in the team’s attacking efforts – with the notable difference that he is now providing more goals than he is scoring.

Messi’s pair of assists in Sunday’s 5-0 walk in the park at Levante – a brilliant through ball for Neymar and a neat square pass to Sandro – mean that he has now contributed no less than six assists in the sea­son’s opening five games.

And when the Argentine’s three goals are added to the equation, he has directly participated in nine of the team’s 12 goals.

Enrique once again found him­self searching for superlatives after the victory over Levante, saying: “Messi is a special, unique player. His teammates know he can make spectacular assists and I love it when they connect like that.”

Perhaps a more telling comment, though, came from the club’s sport­ing director Andoni Zubizarreta, who acknowledged that Messi is currently completely happy with life at the Nou Camp.

That was rumoured not to be the case at various stages last season, with Messi thought to be unim­pressed by the coaching methods of compatriot Tata Martino and displeased with the club’s board as they dragged their feet over a new contract.

Zubizarreta made it clear all that is in the past, saying: “You can see that Messi is enjoying himself – every training session and every game. He looks good with the dy­namic of the team.”

The former goalkeeper also made light of Messi’s only blemish after he blazed a first-half penalty wide, smiling: “We can forgive him a missed penalty this time.”

One player who has particularly benefitted from Messi’s clinical passing is Brazilian star Neymar, whose three goals this season have all come directly from Messi passes.

However, Neymar is a doubt for tomorrow’s trip to Malaga after suf­fering an ankle injury which forced his removal early in the second half.

Midfielder Rakitic could also miss out with a bruised foot, with Xavi on stand by for his first league start of the season. 

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Kompany predicts ‘messy’ Premier League title race

Rory Dollard 22/09/2014
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Shut out: Vincent Kompany (l) and his Manchester City defence were the first to deny Diego Costa a goal this season.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany believes the Barclays Premier League title race is destined to "get messy" with Arsenal joining the champions and Chelsea in a three-way battle.

Ten-man City fought back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Jose Mourinho's table-toppers on Sunday, leaving the Londoners three points clear at the summit.

Southampton and Aston Villa occupy are second and third in the table but are unlikely challengers in the long run, meaning the Gunners and City look likeliest to lead the chase.

The weekend showdown at the Etihad Stadium was billed as the battle of the big hitters but Kompany believes Arsenal, who are one point better off than City and four off top spot, are ready to make it a scrap at the summit.

"It is not fair to call it at the moment," said Kompany.

"First of all we are not even close to Chelsea yet (in the table). Secondly, I have seen good things from Chelsea but I have seen maybe better things from Arsenal so I guess it will all be about consistency and, with the Champions League, it will get messy around December.

"It is too early to call. Five points is nothing but (Chelsea) have five points more than us, it is as simple as that.

"But it will get messy in December and January as it always does – or at least the last six years I have been here it has."

Kompany was in commanding form on Sunday, shutting down Diego Costa in a manner no other defender has yet managed this season.

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